Book shelvesIn my first year at the NAO I spent only 13 weeks in the office. Apart from leave and audit visits, the rest of my time was spent studying for the ACA (Associate Chartered Accountant) qualification – a total of 19 weeks, including exams. Rachael and Robert have already blogged about college and exams in the second year, so my focus is on the first year, which is when most of the college based learning takes place.

In the professional stage there are six knowledge and six application modules. A few lucky people were exempt from some exams because they had covered the topic in their degrees. The subjects covered at this stage are:*

(90 minute computer based assessment)

Business and Finance
Principles of Taxation
Management Infomation

(2.5 hour written exam)

Financial Accounting
Financial Reporting
Audit and Assurance
Business Strategy
Financial Management

*The structure of the syllabus has changed slightly in the last year, but the subject material is basically the same. You can find out more about this on the ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) website.

I found all the topics interesting and some of them built on what I knew from teaching Business Studies. This was a bonus for me, but it doesn’t matter if you haven’t covered any of it before as they teach it all from scratch.

Most of the modules were taught at college, but we covered two of them through home study. Each knowledge module was four or five days long including mock exams, while application modules each took a fortnight in all: a week’s tuition, followed a few weeks later by a week’s revision course. Between the tuition and revision weeks we were given a study plan of around 15 hours’ work to do in our own time.

Most of the subject matter is not particularly difficult compared with university, but there is huge amount of material to cover in a very short time so although college days are quite short with frequent breaks, I found myself exhausted at the end of the week. Exam practice was a major part of the tuition, so we did a total of 30 mock exams over the year. This meant that when it came to the real exams we were well practised in checking the time allocation, reading and annotating the questions, and finding the “easy marks” (a concept I still find challenging).

The most difficult aspect for me was the homework, which was hard to fit in at the end of a college day and the commute home. The highlights were Saturday mornings waking up at 7.00 to a text message to say I’d passed a computer based assessment, then reading all the results-based posts by my colleagues on Facebook before returning, relieved and with a huge sense of achievement, to my bed.

Results from the written exams take about six weeks and you can request a notification by text and email. At 12.00 on results day most of my intake were either taking their lunch break in the pub, at home on leave, or hiding in a corner somewhere waiting for the text to arrive. It was a very nervous morning for most of us!

My next lot of exams (apart from a re-sit, about which the less said the better) are not for almost a year, when I will sit the final three exams which form the advanced stage. I am now putting what I learned in college into practice through my audit assignments, which I’ll write about in another article.

I know that when I applied to the NAO I was very interested in what the studying would be like, so if there is anything else you would like to know, please leave a comment.

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